Q&A: Muslim Coalition on Organizing During Ramadan and Beyond
The story of Muslim and ally communities rising in the years since the Muslim and African Bans includes building across issues, creating authentic, collaborative power, and a pathway for the next two decades as the U.S. more firmly becomes a minority-majority country.
Movement Voter Project’s Muslim Voter Fund invests in, connects, and amplifies groups across locally rooted BAMEMSA* communities driving change all year round using four strategic imperatives: grassroots organizing, capacity building, resourcing and donor organizing, and mutuality. Since 2017, MVP has helped move over $5M to these groups, providing critical support through campaign and civic engagement support, power-building resources, donor education and awareness, and building mutual support networks.
The Muslim Coalition of ISAIAH builds grassroots power through meaningful relationships, resulting in their Super Eid event in 2018, a Race Class Narrative electoral framework in 2020, and a multi-racial legislative agenda in 2023. Over the last five years, MVP has been a committed supporter of their work as a shining example of effective grassroots organizing. We sat down with Abdulahi Farah, Lead Organizer, to learn more about their inspiring work.
What inspired you to take part in grassroots work and activism?
Abdulahi: I learned about organizing back in 2002 and always knew if we needed real change it would take organized people and organized money, but how exactly I was not clear. Also, I didn’t have the clear self-interest to move on doing grassroots organizing. Then, the bombing of our mosque happened in 2017 with the rise of white supremacy and Trump instigating so much islamophobia, we had no other choice but to step in. I personally felt if I didn’t do anything that so many of our community members would be targeted at mosques or prayer centers.
My main motivation to step in was to prevent things from getting worse. Then when I went to a weeklong training with ISAIAH and my whole life was transformed. I came back not only wanting to prevent bad things from happening but someone who wanted to build power around their self-interest and who was equipped on how to do that.
What work is your organization prioritizing in 2023? How does that work connect to your mission and long-term goals?
Abdulahi: We are prioritizing developing leaders across the state in mosques, schools and neighborhoods and working on issue campaigns like investing in youth, home ownership with interest fee and democracy issues etc.
Organizing year-round requires a lot of grace and care to show up for one another. During Ramadan, do you make adjustments to ensure organizers and community members are taken care of?
Abdulahi: We definitely make adjustments the month of Ramadan because of the many spiritual obligations our leaders and organizers have to do and the schedules changing from day to night activities. I try to minimize meetings that are early during the day and try to schedule one to one’s during iftars (a meal at sunset to break fasting). We have meetings that we have to move earlier if we want our sisters and mothers to attend because some of them are making iftar meals. We have many of our organizers take off the last 10 days of Ramadan because it is impossible to do anything during the day since people are awake all night engaged in worship.
The power building continues for some of us however, we take advantage of these many gatherings to build relationships, to get to know people. One-on-one’s sometimes feel like speed dating because you meet so many people during Ramadan at mosques. I believe we have done some of our most powerful work after Ramadan because of all the relationships we built and being spiritually rejuvenated helps as well.
What would you like people to know about the impact of Muslim-led organizing in recent years?
Abdulahi: Muslim-led organizing is an uncharted territory when it comes to real grassroots organizing. I say that because when I visit all the different convening of imams or Muslim conventions, there is no one really talking about how to do grassroots organizing. There are few out there I know, but it is not common. You will find your usual ‘get engaged’ activism or mobilizing campaigns for a single issue, but you don’t find a power organization dedicated to developing every day Muslims to step into their agency and to build power around the issues they care about.
Also, organizing is a craft and there is a science on how to do it and there is methodology used to build out a base of people focused on changing things in their political arena. I have seen so much impact our community already is making without being fully organized. Imagine with the right investment. I believe there is a potential that Muslim communities across the state can become one of the most powerful progressive bases that can push back against the right wing Trumpism.
What sort of support or cross-collaboration would you like to see being extended to Muslim-led groups?
Abdulahi: I would like to see more Muslim led groups sharing best practices and coming together to strategize how we can organize our communities. We are a unique community and we require unique tactics and strategies to move our community. Faith based organizing has a huge role specially organizing imams is what gave me a breakthrough to have the base that I have. So learning from each other what worked and also supporting each other with tools and resources would be helpful.
The Muslim Coalition exemplifies the outsized impact investing in under-resourced communities — deeply and consistently — can have as we move forward towards a multi-racial democracy that includes us all. We know that communities connected by a shared faith, ethnic background, and/or set of experiences often learn and grow together above and beyond state lines. You can support this work by donating to Movement Voter Project to help our partners doing critical work across the country get the resources they need.
*BAMEMSA is a common acronym to connect and describe Black, African, Arab, Asian, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities that have been acutely impacted by post 9/11 discrimination, surveillance, and hate-based violence.
Abdulahi Farah, a prominent leader in Minnesota’s East African and Muslim communities, currently serves as a Lead Organizer at ISAIAH and Faith in MN, where he directs the Muslim Coalition, a group of 40+ mosques and Islamic institutions striving for racial and economic justice in MN. Passionate about leadership development and systems change, Abdulahi has dedicated over a decade to the nonprofit sector, specializing in community organizing, leadership development and project management.
Currently, he is one of the faith leaders at Darul Farooq Mosque and a devoted board member at Sakan Community Resource, where he passionately supports affordable housing and faith-based financial solutions for the Muslim community in his state. With over a decade of experience in the nonprofit sector, Abdulahi also has excelled in community organizing, project management, youth empowerment, and promoting self-sufficiency through various leadership initiatives and organizations.